The Islamic Threat to Europe: By the Numbers

http://counterpunch.org/larsson04212007.html Weekend Edition April 21 / 22, 2007 A Neglected Report from Europol The Islamic Threat to Europe: By the Numbers By KRISTOFFER LARSSON Some things interest the media, others don’t. Since the fall of the USSR, the United States has sought another menace to designate as the ultimate evil, a world threat the Americans desperately need to take on. The 9/11 attacks gave them that enemy. And when the White House speaks, the media listens obediently. Over the last number of years the “Islamic threat” has become one of the favourite issues for media coverage. It’s all over the news–Muslims leaders pronouncing threats against the countries participating in occupying Muslim land. While America is the Western country most succumbed to the fear of Islamism, things aren’t much better in Europe. Its media is highly Americanised and thus eager to reiterate U.S. governmental positions towards the non-Western world. Islamic terrorism is subsequently a theme close to the hearts of European journalists as well. Following this, you might think the journalists would be beside themselves with joy when the European Police Office (Europol) releases its first report on terrorism in the EU. I can assure you they weren’t. In fact, to my best knowledge, not a single Swedish paper or news-channel has paid any attention to it whatsoever. I haven’t seen it receiving much attention in other EU countries either (kudos to the EUobserver for having the decency to report on it). The report is namely a grave disappointment for the anti-Islamic campaigners. There were 498 incidents in eleven EU countries last year labelled as “terrorist attacks.” The Basque separatist group ETA did best (136 terrorist attacks) and was responsible for the only deadly attack, killing two in Madrid. The remaining 497 fortunately cost no human lives. How about the Islamic terrorists then? Considering the perpetual warnings in our daily papers, the findings in the Europol report is, to say the least, surprising. The truth is that Islamists only carried out one out of the 498 terrorist attacks in the European Union in 2006. Don’t believe me? The entire report is available on Europol’s website. Had Islamic fundamentalists been behind a higher number of attacks-say 136-it would have been front page news at every big daily. One attack is simply too few–it won’t do if the image of an “Islamic threat” is to live on. The Europol report devotes several pages to Islamist terrorism, despite the low number. Except for the one attack in Germany this group was responsible for (which, by the way, failed and resulted in no victims), also Denmark and the United Kingdom reported that Islamists plotted to carry out one attack in each country respectively (incidentally, all three countries are accessory to the illegal occupation of Iraq). However, since these plans in both cases were exposed before they were set to work, they were not included among the 498. Either way, even after taking these plots into account, the report proves the genuine magnitude of Islamic terrorism in Europe–it’s not exactly a huge threat. If we look at the people arrested on suspicion of terrorism offences, the figures are rather disproportionate; about half of them arrested were Muslim. In plain English: Muslims are a group causing very little terrorism in Europe, while at the same time much more likely to be arrested on suspicion of it. The constant media coverage of Muslims being arrested creates the false image of a serious threat in order to benefit the imperialist world-view Washington wants us to adopt. Meanwhile the Americans and their accomplices are carrying out genocide in Iraq. Clearly, something needs to be done about the media. Kristoffer Larsson lives in Sweden. He can be reached at: kristoffer.larsson@sobernet.nu Anna Bigelow

Nicolas Sarkozy : « Badges retracted from 72 Roissy employees: we must continue to take precautions »

Seventy-two Roissy airport employees were asked to give up their badges on the grounds that they belonged to or were close to fundamentalist Islamist organizations. For Nicolas Sarkozy, the main concern is “to take precautions in a zone where there are millions of passangers.” The following morning, Phillippe de Villiers, president of the Movement for France, opined that there are “probably still reserves of Islamist baggage carriers at Roissy.” De Villiers published a book last April stating that Islamists had taken control of entire zones of Roissy airport, most notably the baggage area. The employees’ lawyer, on the other hand, was livid. He claimed that the airport had no proof at all that the employees had done anything inappropriate. He called the whole incident base discrimination.

Study: French Riots Not Caused By Islamists

BRUSSELS — The urban riots that shook France to its core last year were not sparked by Islamist fanatics and had little to do with the radicalization of the country’s Muslim youth, says a new report by the International Crisis Group. Instead, the independent Brussels-based grouping blames the violence on political frustration and social deprivation among Muslim communities and the heavy-handed tactics adopted by French police in deprived suburbs. Almost 9,000 cars were torched and 3,000 people were arrested in October and November after two African youths were electrocuted fleeing police officers. The center-right government responded by declaring a state of emergency and imposing a curfew in the worst-hit suburbs. The rioting, which lasted 20 days and nights, was the worst civic unrest in France for almost four decades and led some commentators to declare that the country was teetering on the edge of a civil war between its indigenous population and largely Muslim immigrant communities. “France faces a problem with its Muslim population, but it is not the problem it generally assumes,” says the ICG in its latest report, citing French concerns about the security threat posed by a five million-strong Muslim population mobilized by radical Islam. “In fact, the opposite is true: paradoxically, it is the exhaustion of political Islamism, not its radicalization, that explains much of the violence, and it is the depoliticization of young Muslims, rather than their alleged reversion to a radical kind of communalism, that ought to be a cause for worry.” French interior minister and likely presidential candidate Nicolas Sarkozy caused a storm shortly after the start of the disturbances by describing the rioters as “scum” and promising to clean up one of Paris’ most notorious suburbs with a high-powered vacuum cleaner. French President Jacques Chirac was also pilloried for telling the alienated youth that they were all “sons and daughters of the republic” — despite all evidence to the contrary. The ICG report accuses French politicians and trade unions of failing to deal with the problems faced by the country’s Muslim communities. But it also takes Muslims to task for shying away from politics and not organizing themselves into a cohesive political force. “Muslim immigrant populations are not participating in French politics,” says Robert Malley, Crisis Group’s Middle East and North Africa Program Director. “There is currently a dangerous political void, particularly within the unemployed or underemployed youth in suburban areas. Political frustration is assuming a violent expression, taking the form of jihadi Salafism and riots, and is feeding off precarious social conditions, in terms of employment and housing, social discrimination and the s stigmatization of Islam.” A small minority of rioters were swayed by radical Islamist propaganda, but the vast majority was not motivated by religion, says the ICG, a highly-respected conflict resolution group headed by former Australian foreign minister Gareth Evans. The unrest in the suburbs last year “took place without any religious actors and confirmed that Islamists do not control those neighborhoods,” claims the study. “There were no bearded provocateurs behind the riots, and no bearded ‘older brothers’ to end them.” Rather, the ICG says the rioting resulted from a profound feeling of abandonment among France’s immigrant communities, who often suffer from high levels of poverty and unemployment. Ignored by politicians, living precarious lives in poor tenements, often the victims of virulent Islamophobia and police aggression, some young Muslims see violence as the only means of expression left to them, says the report, which was published Thursday. The theory that alienation, rather than religious extremism, lies at the roost of the rioting, appears to be backed up by interviews with young Muslims from the Paris suburbs. “France has betrayed the young people of the suburbs,” one unemployed 24-year-old told the BBC in a program titled “Europe’s angry young Muslims,” which was aired Wednesday. “When you’re called Ali you can’t get a job. The French don’t accept Islam. Politicians promise us mosques and so on, but at the same time they smear us and call us terrorists.” The study, the first in a series on Islamism in Europe, urges the French government to use less coercive police tactics in deprived neighborhoods, to re-introduce community policing in suburbs that have become no-go areas and to abandon the idea that institutionalizing Islam as a religion will quash the emergence of radical groupings. It also advises mainstream political parties to become more active in underprivileged suburbs and Muslims to set up political parties and local associations to channel their discontent peacefully.

Fear of Islamists Drives Growth of Far Right in Belgium

ANTWERP, Belgium – Filip Dewinter, a boyish man in a dark blue suit, bounds up two flights of steep stairs in his political party’s 19th-century headquarters building where posters show a Muslim minaret rising menacingly above the Gothic steeple of the city’s cathedral. “The radical Muslims are organizing themselves in Europe,” he declared. “Other political parties, they are very worried about the Muslim votes and say let’s be tolerant, while we are saying – the new political forces in Europe are saying – no, we should defend our identity.” From the Freedom Party in Austria to the National Front in France to the Republicans in Germany, Europe’s far right has made a comeback in recent years, largely on the strength of anti-immigration feelings sharpened to a fear of Islam. That fear is fed by threats of terrorism, rising crime rates among Muslim youth and mounting cultural clashes with the Continent’s growing Islamic communities. But nowhere has the right’s revival been as swift or as strong as in Belgium’s Dutch-speaking region of Flanders, where support for Mr. Dewinter’s Vlaams Belang, or Flemish Interest, has surged from 10 percent of the electorate in 1999 to nearly a quarter today. Vlaams Belang is now the strongest party in Flanders, with support from a third of the voters in Antwerp, the region’s largest city. Many people worry that the appeal of antiIslamic politics will continue to spread as Europe’s Muslim population grows. “What they all have in common is that they use the issue of immigration and Islam to motivate and mobilize frustrated people,” said Marco Martiniello, a political scientist at the University of Li_ge in the French-speaking part of Belgium. “In Flanders all attempts to counter the march of the Vlaams Belang have had no results, or limited results, and no one really knows what to do.” Fear of Islam’s transforming presence is so strong that even many members of Antwerp’s sizable Jewish community now support Mr. Dewinter’s party, even though its founders included men who sympathized and collaborated with the Nazis during World War II. Many of those supporters are Jews who feel threatened by a new wave of anti-Semitism emanating from Europe’s growing Muslim communities. The friction is acutely felt in central Antwerp, where the Jewish quarter abuts the newer Muslim neighborhood of Borgerhout. There, Hasidic diamond traders cross paths daily with Muslim youths, for many of whom conservative Islam has become an ideology of rebellion against perceived oppression. Israeli-Palestinian violence produces a dangerous echo here: anti-Israel marches have featured the burning in effigy of Hasidic Jews, and last June a Jewish teenager was critically wounded in a knife attack by a group of Muslim youths. “Their values are not the right values,” said Henri Rosenberg, a Talmudic scholar and lawyer who is an Orthodox Jew, speaking of the Muslim community. Though he is the son of concentration camp survivors and his grandparents died in camps, he campaigned on behalf of Vlaams Belang, then named Vlaams Blok, in regional elections last year. As the right rallies beneath an anti-Muslim banner, European Muslims themselves have become increasingly politically engaged. The community is far too divided along religious, racial and national lines to present a unified political force, so most of Europe’s Muslim politicians have allied themselves with socialists or other left-leaning parties. But radical Muslims are also getting involved, and in many ways they are helping to validate the fears that keep parties like Vlaams Belang alive. Behind the wooden door of a brick Brussels town house, Jean-Fran_ois Bastin, 61, a Belgian convert to Islam, holds court before a steady stream of Islamic activists. His fledgling Young Muslims Party is one of the new groups aggressively pursuing pro-Muslim agendas in Europe. He calls Osama bin Laden “a modern Robin Hood,” and the World Trade Center attacks “a poetic act,” “a pure abstraction.” His 23-year-old son is in jail in Turkey on charges that he was involved in the bombings there that killed 61 people in November 2003. But Mr. Bastin argues that his son’s troubles are evidence that Muslim youths feel politically excluded in Europe. He says political engagement is an antidote to militancy. “There is deviance because people don’t find their place here,” he said, a long, hennaed beard falling over the front of his Arab-style tunic, his graying hair tucked beneath a turban fashioned from a multicolored head scarf. “If we deny that political voice that can judge and determine what is good for Muslims, from the point of view of their religion and their citizenship, their children are going to look for adventures elsewhere.” Mr. Bastin, who converted to Islam in 1972 after a spiritual quest led him to Morocco, dismisses the far right’s fears of an Islamization of Europe, even if he does dream of an Islamic theocracy governing the Continent someday. “Were not talking about Shariah now,” he said, referring to the Islamic legal code that fundamentalist Muslims believe should be the foundation of society. “Were talking about Belgian Muslims being recognized on the same footing as other confessions and ideologies.” In many ways radical Islamists like Mr. Bastin are holding Europe’s broader, moderate Muslim population hostage, attracting attention disproportionate to their numbers. “You have, in the current context, people who feel legitimized being anti-Muslim,” said Mr. Martiniello, the political scientist. He cited the case of a Belgian man who had received death threats for employing a woman who wore a Muslim head scarf. Many of the extreme right’s supporters see Islam’s growing European presence as the latest, most powerful surge of a Muslim tide that has ebbed and flowed since the religion spread to the Continent in the eighth century. They warn that lax immigration policies, demographic trends and a strong Muslim agenda will forever alter Europe. The Continent’s Muslim population, now 20 million, grew from a postwar labor shortage that was filled with workers from North Africa and Turkey. By the 1980’s economic malaise and rising unemployment had created tension between the largely Muslim immigrants and the surrounding societies. But family reunion policies, which granted visas to family members of immigrants already in Europe, fueled another, more sustained wave of immigration that continues today. “We were very na_ve,” Mr. Dewinter said of the liberal policies. He called tolerance Europe’s Achilles’ heel and immigration Islam’s Trojan horse. The trend is even more distressing to the far right when considering the low birthrate of Europe’s traditional populations and the likelihood that more workers will need to be imported in the coming decades to broaden the tax bases of the Continent’s aging societies. Already about 4,000 to 5,000 Flemish residents are leaving Antwerp every year, while 5,000 to 6,000 non-European immigrants arrive annually in the city, Mr. Dewinter said. Within 10 years, he predicts, people of non-European backgrounds will account for more than a third of Antwerp’s population. “It’s growing very, very fast,” Mr. Dewinter said. “Maybe that will be the end of Europe.”

Radical Islamists In The Court Of Appeal

Nizar Trabelsi, Amor Sliti, Tarek Maaroufi and six other radical Islamists sentenced in September 2003 by the court in Brussels for preparing the attack on the American base in Kleine-Brogel (in the region of Limbourg, Belgium) and of being involved in the murder of an Afghan opposition leader in 2001, went on appeal.